Wed, Dec 07, 2005 - Page 7 News List

More chaos at Saddam trial as witnesses testify

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS The judge called for a 40-minute recess in order to figure out how to allow a woman to testify clearly without being identified

AFP , BAGHDAD

The gripping trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein over a Shiite massacre 23 years ago made a shaky restart yesterday with the court due to hear testimony from witnesses with protected identities.

As in three previous hearings, Saddam was the last to enter the courtroom. Apart from his usual Koran, he carried files and papers, after his protests to the judge on Monday that he had been forced to take notes on his hands.

"Good morning to all those who respect the law," the former president said, greeting his co-defendants.

Shortly after the audience began, presiding judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin called for a 40-minute break to sort out a technical problem as a woman witness testified from behind a curtain with her voice disguised.

The woman, sitting in court behind a beige drape, had begun to give her testimony relayed with her voice disguised for security reasons, but defense lawyers protested and charged that her testimony was incomprehensible.

Amin then ruled that the audio feed to journalists in the tribunal's press box be cut, allowing the woman -- identified only as witness A -- to speak without her voice being identified.

"Cut the audio to the outside and let the witness speak with her normal voice," Amin said.

As journalists follow the court hearing from behind a glass window, Amin then ordered a break to decide how best the woman could speak.

"Everyone has to hear," he said.

The court then resumed with witness A's voice heavily modulated by a computer.

Before the recess, she recalled events in the early 1980s involving her brother and other members of her family being taken away by Saddam's forces.

At one point she broke down in tears and halted when she related how she was taken by Saddam's security forces and at one point forced to remove her clothes.

The witness had initially began with a poem about Prophet Mohammed and the Shiite Imam Ali, but the judge cut her off and told her that there was no need for the court to hear that.

A US official close to the proceedings said witnesses would yesterday give testimony without their faces appearing on delayed television footage and with their voices disguised for security reasons.

Mesmerizing the world with chilling accounts of torture from witnesses and angry tirades from Saddam blasting the legality of the proceedings, the Iraqi courtroom drama has been hailed the "trial of the century" by the local media.

Saddam is on trial with seven others for the massacre of 148 people from the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982.

He and his seven deputies, who have pleaded not guilty, face the death penalty by hanging if convicted over the killings, which followed an assassination bid against Iraq's former strongman during a visit to the town.

At a marathon session on Monday, Saddam insisted he was unafraid of execution as the court was subjected to tearful accounts of murder and torture -- including the use of a meat grinder and electric shocks -- from one witness.

"I am not afraid of being executed" if found guilty, Saddam vowed, after an earlier outburst in which he shouted, "Long live Iraq."

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